The just-completed G20 summit was supposed to be an opportunity to showcase Toronto to the world. Unfortunately, the images the world will remember are of burning police cruisers, smashed store windows and riot squads chasing down protesters.
In Canada, there is another summit memory that will stick in the public mind: the $1.2 billion that was spent to host the G20 in Toronto and its sister group of leaders, the G8, in Muskoka. Much of that money was spent turning Toronto into an armed camp.
How did this happen? How did a seemingly peaceful protest march spin out of control and become a scene of mayhem? And given the heavy police presence in our city, how did a small number of black-clad, self-styled "anarchists" (the Black Bloc) manage to do so much damage?
Some argue that the mayhem justified the huge expenditure on security measures. "That's why the security costs were high," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the summit-closing news conference on Sunday.
Others say that the omnipresent barricades and police in riot gear served as a magnet to those intent on smashing property.
Either way, the questions that linger from this weekend ought not to go unanswered. Rather, they should be addressed in a systemic fashion. Auditor-General Sheila Fraser comes to mind as someone who could do the job. But her mandate is limited to determining whether the government is receiving "value for money" for its spending. What is needed is a wider inquiry, headed by an eminent person with a broad mandate and a tight time frame. Among the questions that inquiry should pose are:
• How did the bill for the summits run up so high? Was every summit organizer told to "spare no expense?"
• What was the thinking behind the decision to host a G20 meeting on the heels of the G8 and to put it in Toronto?
• Why was it decided to turn the downtown core into an armed camp rather than take a more subtle approach to security? Did anyone balance security demands against costs to businesses, theatres, restaurants and bars?
• Would the security problems have been reduced if, as Toronto Mayor David Miller had suggested, the main meeting place had been at Exhibition Place instead of the convention centre (Harper's choice)?
• What intelligence was there on the Black Bloc and was it shared among all the police forces? And if some of the Black Bloc came from abroad, why were they let in the country?
• With thousands of additional officers in town, why did the police response seem so slow to deliberate acts of vandalism? Was this a conscious police tactic — to allow some damage to happen before cracking down?
The point of asking questions like this is not to point fingers of blame at summit organizers, the police or anyone else. Rather, it is to learn from our past mistakes. Canada will undoubtedly be expected to host future summits. We have to do a better job of it the next time.
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